Is online education an effective means of supporting financial wellbeing?

Need to know:

  • Financial education is a key tool in supporting the overall wellbeing of employees, but it must be delivered in a method that is engaging and relevant.
  • While face-to-face presentations and seminars are still highly popular, online initiatives can reach a widely dispersed workforce with personalised information.
  • Online methods help avoid the stigma around speaking publicly about money, and may well reach a point where employees receive the right information automatically.

An employee’s financial concerns, whether about supporting a family, managing problem debt or saving for the future, can impact their health in myriad ways, such as high stress and anxiety levels, lack of sleep, and poor concentration. All of which will, of course, impact a business through absence, lack of engagement and motivation, and low levels of productivity.

According to the Financial wellbeing index 2019, published by Close Brothers Asset Management in January 2019, 77% of employees have had money worries impact them at work, while 89% of large UK businesses have been affected by poor employee financial wellbeing.

To help address these concerns, a financial education programme can provide the tools and information to help employees on the path to better financial stability, and ultimately improving their overall health and wellbeing.

For employers to see the best return on their investment, though, they must ensure that this education is provided in a way that reaches, engages and is relevant to employees.

Modern expectations

The Employee Benefits/Barnett Waddingham Pensions research, published in December 2018, found that employers are making use of the wide range of options available to them; 62% deliver financial education through face-to-face seminars, while 57% use an intranet site, 43% provide online tools and modellers, and 23% use web-based seminars.

Although face-to-face methods tend to be seen as most effective when it comes to actively engaging the staff that are involved, within the modern reality of highly dispersed workforces, agile working practices, and diverse employees with varied preferences and learning styles, this is no longer neccessarily the best solution.

The reach of the programme is a key factor, says Martin Parish, area director at Aon. “Face-to-face is still the most popular [method], but that is difficult with a dispersed workforce because then it becomes costly. Online [delivery] definitely has an advantage from an economies of scale perspective.”

In addition, as tailoring and personalisation become the norm across all walks of life, there are limitations to the relevance of mass presentations.

Jeremy Beament, co-founder at Nudge, says: “With 30 or 40 employees in a room, [delivering] a presentation that is personalised and relevant to each of those people is practically impossible.”

Nevertheless, there are strengths in all methods, whether online or offline, says Rebekah Gerry, financial wellbeing lead at Neyber: “It is important to remember that it doesn’t have to be either, or. Quite often we will work with a client where we provide face-to-face sessions, and follow those up with the ability for people to check in online and keep that learning going.”

Personalised support

In an ideal world, employees might be able to have the best of both by accessing individual face-to-face sessions, allowing them to gain insight into relevant issues and find the answers to their own questions, while benefiting from the engagement boost of an in-person presentation. However, in reality this is difficult, if not impossible, for employers to implement.

Parish says: “Online content allows employers and advisers to establish a strategy so that different employees get different information; that’s where the personalisation angle becomes advantageous.”

The ability to offer support to employees in all areas of their lives also allows organisations to avoid focusing too heavily on one subject that might not seem relevant to large portions of the workforce.

Beament explains: “When we first started talking to employers about financial education, the assumption was that it would be very pensions focused. Pensions are incredibly important, but [this is] only one of 25 areas that we cover.

“In the modern workplace, [the] lines between home and work are almost completely gone, and employees are looking for support on their whole financial lives, rather than one area. We see financial education as being more holistic now.”

“One set of content is never going to cover everyone,” agrees Gerry. “That’s why being able to personalise and feed to people what is most important to them at that particular time is a real benefit of online [programmes].”

Sensitive information

Online delivery can also help address the residual stigma around discussing money, especially in the workplace and in a group context. This is a particular concern when some of the core issues employees need help with are day-to-day budgeting and managing debt.

“There is a lot of stigma around talking about finances,” says Gerry. “As much as we try to break [the stigma] down, it can be good, particularly for those people who feel they are in a bad financial situation, to be able to get that support and help online, without having to raise their hand.”

As the technology surrounding online financial education advances, employees may no longer even need to worry about actively asking for help on sensitive issues, virtual or otherwise.

“The key evolution as we see it is about getting exactly the right information to the right people at the right time, with the right motivation behind it,” Beament concludes. “As technology gets faster, and artificial intelligence kicks in, then the end goal is that it will know exactly who an individual is and will be able to get exactly the right stuff to them, at exactly the right moment.”